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An Oscar winning project

This project comes from a Hollywood-Production that needed a set design with lightweight domes that should appear as a futuristic laboratory.

Un proyecto de Oscar

The high-tech scenery required a sterile atmosphere and transparent tunnels that should connect the workplaces. During the Internet-research of the American Production-Team images of an inflated Prototype were found at the homepage of Planex Technik in Textil GmbH. These images showed a shell-like, immaterial-ethereal Architecture made out of foil and air, a result of cooperation between University Stuttgart and Festo AG in Esslingen, Germany, that was supported by the manufacturing help of Planex. That was admired as an appropriate structure and a further development got started.

After the first planning work and arranging proposals by Planex and Atelier leichtbaukunst / Dr. Lars Meeß-Olsohn (both Partners of the Network TEXTILE-ARCHITEKTUR) the final shape and layout of the 19m x 13m x 4,5m dome was worked out precisely.

The main part of producing the two domes including logistics and assembling in the United States had been done by Stuttgart Büro STUDIO LTA. Since their student times its partners Philipp Kuner und Julian Lutz were working with that lightweight concept called PLUSMINUS. A further support was provided by Dr. Switbert Greiner / ArtEngineering GmbH for calculating the forces and doing the cutting patterning.

PLUSMINUS, basics and first applications

Guided by Jürgen Hennicke the first steps in developing an enclosure with the characteristic appearance of lineal pneumatic tubes were exhibited at Techtextil 2007 on the base of students work at Institut für Leichtbau, Entwerfen und Konstruieren (ILEK; Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dr.-Ing. E.h. Dr.h.c. Werner Sobek), Universität Stuttgart.

By means of a vacuum between the inner and the outer layer dozens of air-supported beams were fixed in their upright position creating walls of almost 4m high. Completely made out of transparent foil, that building-system so-called “PLUSMINUS” was characterized by over-inflation (tubes: “PLUS”) and under-inflation (cladding: “MINUS”).

For fire protection reasons these slightly chaotic arranged tubes were covered with a manufactured foil made out of ETFE. The light and almost floating effect was achieved by illuminating the tubes at the base points from the inside.

Further project tasks examined and optimized the detailing of the nodes at their overlapping points and the connections at the base points. This development led in the year 2008 into that specific grid shell which should serve later as a prototype for the requested set design.

The synclastic geometry of a vault reinforces the stiffening effect of the PLUSMINUS construction. During the construction phase of the Gridshell the variability of the angles of the crossing tubes was quite useful. In combination with the inner and outer cladding the stiffening effect rised the more vacuum was introduced.

More and more the atmospheric under-inflation pressed the tubes against each other and the increasing friction produced a structure with nodes that became somehow interconnected rigidly. As a composite the construction got properties of a shell structure; it´s low dead-weight and some external force application could have been removed efficiently.

Technical aspects and construction

A design challenge was to preserve the minimalist character in detail. Therefore, the clamping of the tubes was carried out for reasons of tightness concealed in the end cap containing the custom-made LED boards that were built by Lexington-Europe, too. The supply lines of the pneumatically were hidden discreetly in the circular arranged floor channels.

The assembling in a huge industrial hall in New Orleans began with laying the floor channels in its final position on the ground to allow the perfect arrangement of each of the inflated tubes in their arch-like geometry. Then the claddings, manufactured by Planex, had to be fixed air-tight to the ground channels. By evacuating the air between the claddings and the arches the stabilizing compound became more and more obvious.

Using a translucent Polyethylene foil instead of a transparent one helped on one hand to underline the illumination and helped on the other hand the movie-makers to focus on what will happen inside the futuristic Movie-Labs.

The Film

Recently, the first trailers of the Movie "Self / Less" have appeared (Go to video). However, these film clips indicates already that the shown Gridshells will play a central role in the plot: The complex thriller is about an experimental consciousness transfer of a wealthy Business tycoon “the man, that built New York” played by acting legend Ben Kingsley in a young and healthy body (Ryan Reynolds). This takes place inside the two Domes and it will be interesting to see how Director Tarsem Singh - well-known for its visually stunning screenplays like "The Cell" or "Immortals" – will transfer his visionary aspect of the story into the context of the whole scenery.

There is a discussion about new possibilities of lightweight tensile structures currently. Innovative and multifunctional types of roof and facade constructions with multi-layer films/foils and fabrics can give new impulses to modern building industries. This project in the tradition of experimental construction shows that the potentials in design, structure and materials of the textile architecture can be creatively and constructively challenging.


PLUSMINUS: Set-Design for Hollywood-Movie “SELF/LESS”

Production Company: Endgame Entertainment, Ram Bergman Productions

Copyright: Concorde2015 Filmverleih

Photos: Studio LTA, Julian Lutz und Philipp Kuner GbR, with Jürgen Hennicke

Engineering: ArtEngineering GmbH, Dr. Switbert Greiner

Design: leichtbaukunst, Dr. Lars Meeß-Olsohn*                                             
Lighting: Lexington Europe GmbH*                                                                      

Assembly: Planex Technik in Textil GmbH*                                       

* Partner of the  Network TEXTILE-ARCHITEKTUR